If not for the teachings he picked up in tae kwon do, current Ridgewood Police Chief John Ward might not be alive today.
On a rainy night in 1988, Ward had been chasing a suspect through the Paramus Nursery. He tackled the man and reholstered his weapon as he was attempting to put the cuffs on with the suspect in a compliance hold.
"He spun around, nailed me with an elbow and next thing I know we're rolling around on the ground," Ward said. "He has one hand around my throat, the other trying to grab my gun."
Using techniques he learned from Byung Cha of USA Martial Arts College at 31 South Broad Street, Ward was able to stun the man – who was high on crack cocaine – and regain control.
"I attribute that to saving my life that day," Ward, a 5th dan black belt in tae kwon do, said.
Ward's story is just one of many current and former students will tell, thanking Cha, 65, for aiding in their personal and professional successes.
On the wall of his Broad Street do jang, Marines proudly state they owe their success to the Korean immigrant. Law enforcement officials whom he's trained for more than three decades say he's helped save lives. Others thank him for working as a volunteer chaplain to inmates at the Bergen County Jail.
Interestingly, everyday worker bees credit Cha, a 9th dan black belt, for helping him get the law degree, or even stabilizing their marriage, or helping adjust maladaptive behavior their kids are displaying.
He's a renaissance man of sorts – martial arts instructor, child care provider, marriage counselor, spiritual adviser.
The Korean native, who has two grown daughters (a doctor and a lawyer), says he is proud of those successes, but most enjoys watching the progression of young students' development.
"One student visits me every year," said Cha, struggling to mask his smile. "He said he was a bad kid but you gave me success."
Cha nods, shows a picture of the student and says simply, "I gave him a lot of hope. I tell my students that whatever you're thinking of doing, you have to finish."
His relationship with students is strong, he says. He's very invested in their futures, that much is clear.
"All students here are like my kids," the grandmaster noted. "You better be strong with your mind, body and spirit. You can be a success and make this a strong country."
The long-time business owner – frequent to repeat his devotion to this country – says the skills learned in tae kwon do extend far beyond the self defense skills. They teach patience and the ability to withdraw from a situation, as well as relieving stress and strengthening mental acuity.
"Fighting is actually the least important thing we teach here," he said.
They teach an inner confidence that helps students achieve success, he claims. He also teaches tai chi courses, the ancient Chinese internal art, with an emphasis on strengthening the inner body, muscles, tendons, bones. The style is more subdued than the external tae kwon do and is considered more meditative, with a focus on breathing exercises.
The grandmaster is offering a 2-month trial period for only $98. He says he refuses to do a contract. The deal includes a free uniform ($50 value).
USA Martial Arts College is located at 31 South Broad Street in Ridgewood. Classes run from Monday through Saturday and are taught by Cha.
The school can be reached at (201) 447-9595 or on the web at USAMartialArtsCollege.com.